What might detract from our participation in God’s mission in our neighborhoods?
Being surveyors: Who likes surveys? When we are surveyed, we feel like a number about to be made into a statistic, and often we are. While ethnographic work can be helpful, it’s not the same as engaging with neighbors as persons with their own stories and perspectives so that we begin to grow relationships of trust and mutuality.
Being service providers: An oft-repeated axiom is “find the need and meet it.” But we’re learning that someone “meeting my needs” isn’t always that helpful. In fact, it disempowers me, creates dependency, and usually addresses only symptoms as opposed to root causes and deeper issues. Clearly there is a time and place when basic needs must be met, but doing “to” or “for” is not the same as being with and among. When we come alongside, we discover the gifts of the other, learn and receive from our neighbors, who also bear God’s image, and realize we’re all in this together.
Being problem solvers: We are rarely good listeners when we’re focused on finding solutions and resolving issues. Yet it’s been said repeatedly that listening is often the greatest gift we can give. We all need to be heard. And if an act of listening was what got God started in responding to his people—“God heard their groaning” (Ex. 2:24)—perhaps that’s where we should start too.
Being programmers: All of these roles, as well as running our own programs “for the community,” leave us in control, meaning that we are the ones with the power, resources, answers, and solutions. But what if we’re not? What if God is? And, if we really want to discover and participate in what God is doing in our neighborhoods, what if we shouldn’t be? Perhaps God’s invitation and calling to us is first to be with, live among, and love our neighbors in such a way that we bear witness to the kingdom of God come near.
I wonder what might happen if, instead of putting a lot of time and effort into surveys, service provision, programs, and solutions, we simply committed to three conversations with neighbors each week?